Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Sound of a Human Voice

Scott D. Parker

Were I to ask if anyone knew who Nipper the dog was, could y'all answer me correctly?

Frankly, when I started to write this piece, I didn't know the dog's name either. I had to look it up. But I think we all know the image of the white dog, sitting in front of an Edison phonograph, raptly listening to the sound of his master's voice.

Why bring up this dog that's been dead over a century? To let us on the blogosphere know that, sometimes, it's just really good to hear another's voice.

Bouchercon 2011 is going strong up in St. Louis. I had planned to attend, but things conspired against me. Perhaps next year. Nonetheless, we non-attenders are stuck wondering what we're missing. Of all the blogs I follow, many have gone silent. Even the usual Twitter traffic is slower. I wonder why.

Oh, I know. It's because people are talking to other people face to face. What a concept. It's a special type of interaction that, for as awesome a thing as the internet is, you just can't replicate. That point was brought home to me loud and clear--literally--this week.

I've know David Cranmer since 2008. We both jumped on this blogging thing around the same time and, somehow, started commenting on each others posts. Months progressed, emails were exchanged, and we fostered a genuine friendship. But we've never met. And, until this week, we have never spoken.

That changed on Tuesday. David emailed me and basically said, "It's way past time we spoke." Now, as an editor for his Beat to a Pulp webzine, I thought it was going to be a business thing. Even then, however, a smile grew on my face. What would he sound like, being a Mainer and all. Would he think my metropolitan Houston accent just didn't sound Texan enough?

So, he called and I picked up the phone. After a few moments of weirdness when you finally put a voice with the still image on computer screens, we started talking. And talking. And talking. We talked all through the time I prepared dinner and, indeed, all the way up until I had to blast out of my house to get to a jazz band rehearsal. It was almost like two old friends getting together. Which is, in fact, the truth. We are friends. Granted, we've never met, but that doesn't matter. We've worked together on stories, we work together on Beat to a Pulp, and we share common interests. It was a total blast.

As Steve's post on Monday asserted--and the 15 commenters concurred--the personal aspect of this hobby, passion, profession, whatever is very important. It's like Facebook, only, you know, more real.

Comic of the Week: Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. I am giving all the first issues of DC Comics New 52 a chance. I'll decide later what I'll keep reading on a monthly basis on what titles warrant trade paperback collections. When reading the Flashpoint series this past summer, the Frankenstein part surprised and delighted me. I was not aware that this is Grant Morrison's take on the creature. Frank, an agent of Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, is a warrior charged with combating other monsters that give "regular" humans pause. Love the over-the-top-ness of this title. And his wife! Dude, she's got four arms!

Site of the Week: Brave and the Bold: The Lost Issues. This Batman team-up comic was my favorite growing up. The animated version has thrilled me and made me laugh for three years. This site, run by a person who I can't identify, creates covers that could never exist: Batman and Marvel Girl circa 1960-something, Batman and Man-Wolf from the 1970s, or Batman and John Wayne. He pairs the image of Batman that best suits the co-star and creates covers as if they actually existed. I get a kick out of it every week.

Fun Tweet of the Week:
....and the word of the night is "boobs" apparently. #projectrunway

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Englishman's Home Is His Castle

By Jay Stringer

It's not enough for me to say that something, works, I want to know how. If a film is good -or bad- I want to look at it's pieces, figure out how we got to that result. If a book moves me, I need to look at how it's structured, what tricks the author had used.

I can't just say that I think Castle is good TV, I need to figure out what makes it work for me. I know why people assume I like it. I had it even today, someone said, "I bet you like it because he's a writer." I dont think i'd be drawn to a story about a writer, if I'm honest. I remember struggling through the first few chapters of Salem's Lot for that very reason.

Something else I get is folks deciding it's down to my man love for Nathan Fillion, but I'm not convinced.

Let's look at the parts.

Richard Castle has changed over three seasons. By degrees. He started out as the rakish, slightly caddish, playboy writer who had a heart of gold. Over three years his rakish elements have been downplayed and his 'good at heart' side has developed. But I doubt he alone is why I like the show. If we take the first season, ad assume that Beckett doesn't stay in his life, a solo Richard Castle show would probably be a brother to Californication. liked the first season of the Duchovny vehicle; it was fun and fast, but I didn't need to see any more after that. Also, Castle is a fantasy character, writers don't live that life.

So, is it Beckett? Not really.

Beckett as played by Stana Katic is strong, independent and dedicated. At the same time, she's yet another in a long line of fictional cops who view policing as a sacred duty, and talks of standing up for the people who need help. Her captain of the last three seasons, Montgomery, made similar speeches. To characters like these, policing is about making a stand or drawing a line. All well and good, but all dull and cliche. A solo show of Kate Beckett wouldn't make it onto my viewing list, because I simply don't believe in those kinds of characters. Cops are employees, they do jobs. I don't need yet another show about a principled and driven cop walking the mean streets despite not being mean.

The supporting cast maybe?

Actually, yeah, maybe.

Detectives Ryan and Esposito are a tonne of fun. They weave through the episodes like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of crime fiction. Their humour and humanity undercuts many of the cliche'd elements of the shows leads, and they're the vehicle the writer can use to carry us from comedy to drama and back again.

Still, though, am I going to be drawn to a show about two cops who's most defining traits are that they're both good at being cops? Probably not.

Is it because it's a crime show? Hmmm. Maybe that's why I first clicked on it. But it's really not what I would describe as my kind of crime show. It has a different murder mystery every week, and some of them are extremely far fetched and full of logical leaps. My favourite mystery so far is still probably the frozen woman from the first season. Yes, it had twisty mystery elements, the basic story was about grief and a very simple murder, and the real impact of the story came after the mystery was solved.

Is it the writing? I thought so. For the first two seasons, the writing was snappy and fun. It carried both old and new concepts with a spring in it's step, and the mysteries usually boiled down to simple and believable mysteries. The third season was a bit more inconsistent. There were a handful of fantastic episodes hidden away amongst a lot of very lightweight or illogical ones. Really, guys, a dead body hidden inside a sofa bed? And I tend to think TV shows shouldn't go past four seasons, and Castle is now entering it's fourth.

So what is it then?

It must be a mix of all the above. It's chemistry. It's a show where the right people are in the right place at the right time, and the result is one of my few 'must see' TV shows.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Research and Changing Attitudes

by John McFetridge

Bouchercon starts today in St. Louis and I wish I was there (no matter how scary Malachi Stone makes it look) but instead I’m home working and spending most of my time in 1970.

I’m thinking about writing a book set in that year and have started doing some research. It’s brought up the question of “researchitis” – that dreaded disease where a writer wants to put every scrap of research into a book and also some questions about the way to approach changing attitudes.

1970 in Montreal is known mostly for the “October Crisis,” the kidnapping of two men (and murder of one) and the use of the War Measures Act which brought the army into the streets, suspended a lot of civil liberties and led to the largest mass arrests in Canadian history (until the recent G20 protests in Toronto).

It’s a little personal for me, I was 11 years old at the time and living in a small English suburb, Greenfield Park, on the south shore of Montreal. At the time I had a paper route delivering the Montreal Gazette before I went to school and on Sundays I delivered the tabloid, Sunday Express.

So, on October 6th, the day after the British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped from his house it was on the front page of the newspaper I delivered. I have a feeling that if a foreign dignitary was kidnapped today in a North American city it would be a huge event. At the time it was sort of one more thing in a growing list of things going on.

There had been a lot of bombs, starting in 1963 when a night watchman (wow, we really don’t use that term anymore, do we?) was killed by a bomb that went off in a Canadian Armed Forces recruiting office. Another man was killed by a bomb in 1966 at a shoe factory, targeted because the owners had locked out striking workers and brought in scabs. In 1969 a bomb blew out a wall of the Stock Exchange building and injured a couple dozen people and lots of mailboxes were blown up. Also, we were quite used to bomb scares, I can remember being in a department store with my mother and being told to wait in the parking lot, which we did, until they reopened the store. I have no idea if they found a bomb or not, but I know that hundreds of bombs were discovered and dismantled by the bomb squad.

On one night in 1970 six bombs went off in Westmount, the “rich” part of Montreal, and two more were discovered and dismantled.

So, by the time of the kidnapping I guess it was like that frog in the cold water slowly heating up to the boiling point.

Then a member of the provincial government, a cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte was kidnapped from the front lawn of his home on the south shore. So now it was getting a little closer to home. And then a week later Mr. Laporte’s body was found in the trunk of a car near the St. Hubert air force base on the south shore. I remember the picture that appeared on the cover of the Sunday Express I delivered; the open trunk, the body.

James Cross was held for another six weeks before his kidnappers negotiated a deal that provided them a flight to Cuba in exchange for letting him go.

And now that I’m doing this research I realized, kind of for the first time, that while all this bombing and kidnapping and murdering was going on a few miles from my house, I’d get up before anyone else and walk through the neighbourhood in the dark.

There is no way I’d let either of my sons do that now. But my parents weren’t neglectful or irresponsible. They just lived in a different time.

I can look up all the news events in archives but those different attitudes are the real challenge.

One of my favourite books written recently and set in the 70’s is Charlie Stella’s, Johnny Porno, which perfectly captured the attitudes and the feel of 1973 New York.

What are some of your favourite books set in the late 60’s and early 70’s?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Whiney Writer

I'm moving this week. We're getting out of our condo and moving in with family until we can find a house. At the same time I'm starting a new position at work.

And it's hell on my writing productivity.

I'm in the midst of a major revision and I'm lucky if I can get one chapter done a night. And no reading done at all.

I hate these moments. They weigh on me. My mind is always turning over stories in my head, figuring out plot twists, working out kinks in the storyline. Yet, I don't have a moment to write them down.

So, I'm sorry for the overly brief blog post, but I need a pick me up. When life gets the best of you, what do you do to keep your writing productivity up?

Since I'm being brief this week, enjoy Pearl Jam's new song:

Monday, September 12, 2011

So we're still doing this convention thing?

By Steve Weddle

So this week is Bouchercon in St. Louis. Everyone you know will be there. You might want to hop over to the site and make your own B'con reading list. Our own Joelle Charbonneau will be there, so be sure to say 'howdy.' If haven't registered and you're nearby, it's not too late to check it out. They have day passes available. And if you are going, I look forward to your twitpics.

Last year, Noircon fell right around B'con, so I got to hear my fair share of stories. Noircon was a blast, of course. I wrote a thing about it here. Since Noricon is every other year, my calendar say they'll be back in Philly next year.

And Murder & Mayhem in Muskego is coming up in November.

Sleuthfest is in Florida in March.

Thrillerfest is in July.

And that's just a handful of offerings in the states.

The UK has a few, as done Canada.

Wasn't Twitter supposed to kill crime fiction conventions? You make friends online, you don't need to meet them 'in person' to know them. Isn't that the, ahem, conventional wisdom?

So much for that, huh?

Do you dig conventions and conferences? If you've been, what's the best part? If you haven't, what would make you go?

And, hey, how about I grab another name from the comments and send them a copy of D*CKED? That cool?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A decade isn’t long enough

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Ten years ago, I was taking auditions, performing in shows and holding down a day job as a system administrator in the Customer Relations department of United Airlines. The day started off like any other. I got into work, stashed my stuff in my cube, revved up my PC and waited for my mother (who still works will United) to come downstairs so we could go to the cafeteria for our morning beverages. My coworker in the next cube over had her radio on low. That’s when I heard a voice report a small plane hit one of the World Trade Center Towers.

Working in an airline means everyone stops for a moment when they hear an airplane has had trouble – regardless of what kind of plane or what airline runs it. The news reports claimed the plane was a small, private one.

We now know they were wrong, but then we didn’t. We assumed the reporter knew what he was talking about. For the next few minutes everyone went about their jobs while keeping one ear peeled for news about the accident. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center my heart stopped. The ability for anyone to work ceased even as the phone lines lit up. And even then we didn’t know how bad it was. That one of the planes belonged to United. The other to American. And that two more planes were circling the clouds with men aboard waiting to do more harm.

Everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 occurred. I was inside United Airlines World Headquarters under lockdown. Phone usage was cut to a minimum because of high call volume. Emergency teams were assembled to answer media inquiries in PR and to talk to concerned family members who wanted to know if their loved ones were on those planes. TVs were set up in conference rooms for those who needed to watch the reports as they aired. I avoided the televisions. Too many of my friends had gone in to view the replays of the planes hitting. They watched the towers fall. Their eyes showed the horror that they had seen. I knew by the hopelessness in their faces that I would fall apart when I saw it. I stayed in my cube and shuffled papers while listening to the radio.

There were rumors of more planes missing. A colleague seated nearby who used to work in reservations let her fingers fly across the keyboard to check one flight status after another. I still remember the intake of air when she found one plane whose flight status was unavailable. United Flight 93.

So much of that day remains a blur, but I remember the faces of my friends and coworkers as we mourned the loss of life and our sense of safety. I worked the phone lines from midnight to 8a.m. and talked to media outlets as the world began to awaken on day two of the tragedy. It was good I didn’t sleep. I don’t think I could have. By then I had seen the news reports on television and knew those images would follow me into my dreams. When I went home sometime late morning, I leaned I was right.

I didn’t work the phone lines again. Instead, I helped assist the company’s communication with the victims’ families. I still remember dozens of the names of those who died on the planes. I also remember many of the names of those left behind.

For the next week, the skies above O’Hare were quiet. For those of us who grew up around the airport, the lack of noise in the skies made us even edgier. The absence of engine roars and soaring planes was proof that the world had irrevocably changed.

The following Tuesday, a week after 9/11, United Airlines held a memorial to remember those who died. Wreaths were laid by friends of our coworkers who were on the fallen planes. I sang God Bless America and watched thousands of colleagues in attendance raise American flags as they cried. I can still feel the way my chest tightened. The equal parts of despair and pride I felt as from the stage I watched a sea of flags rise toward the sky.

Sitting behind my computer today writing this, the emotions of those days come storming back. Ten years later and the tears fall just as quickly. The pain and horror have not lessened.

And I’m glad. Some things are not meant to fade or be forgotten.

Today, I ask you to take a moment to remember those who died and all that was lost. Share what you felt and what you remember here or with someone you talk to today. Ten years have passed—movies have been made, memorials have been erected, but none of those matter as much as us sharing what we saw, what we felt and what we learned.